Laurentic tragedy: Historic recreation staged in Londonderry

Then and now: (top) The survivors of the Laurentic pictured in the Guildhall in January 1917 and (below) their descendants and members of the public recreating the scene 100 years later.
Then and now: (top) The survivors of the Laurentic pictured in the Guildhall in January 1917 and (below) their descendants and members of the public recreating the scene 100 years later.

Over 200 people have gathered in Londonderry to recreate a striking photograph of the survivors from the Laurentic tragedy taken exactly 100 years previously.

Relatives of those who survived and of those who perished in the First World War disaster gathered at the city’s Guildhall on Friday for a special commemorative lunch hosted by the Mayor Alderman Hilary McClintock.

Lord Lieutenant Angela Garvey, Dr. Jaqueline Mair, Lt. Cmdr. Ronan Mc Laughlin (Irish Naval Reserve Service), Mayor Alderman Hilary Mc Clintock, Don McNeill (Organiser of Donegal Laurentic Commemorations) High Sheriff Mary Bradley and Cmdr. John Gray (Royal Navy), who joined relatives and members of the public to remember those who died in the Laurentic tragedy 100 years ago this week.

Lord Lieutenant Angela Garvey, Dr. Jaqueline Mair, Lt. Cmdr. Ronan Mc Laughlin (Irish Naval Reserve Service), Mayor Alderman Hilary Mc Clintock, Don McNeill (Organiser of Donegal Laurentic Commemorations) High Sheriff Mary Bradley and Cmdr. John Gray (Royal Navy), who joined relatives and members of the public to remember those who died in the Laurentic tragedy 100 years ago this week.

The event marked the centenary of the 121 survivors of the Laurentic being brought to Londonderry following the sinking of the naval craft off the coast of the Donegal on January 25 1917.

Over 350 people perished on board the White Star Liner after it struck a mine on route to Nova Scotia while on a secret mission to buy munitions for the war effort. There were 43 tonnes of gold bars on board for this purpose, and some of the gold has never been recovered.

After the survivors were rescued with the help of local people and brought to Buncrana and Fort Dunree in Inishowen, County Donegal, the then Mayor of Londonderry, Sir Robert Newton Anderson, organised for them to be brought to the city’s town hall for a special lunch in the Guildhall, while also organising donations of money, clothing and other items.

During the event, the relatives heard tributes to their loved ones from the Mayor and representatives of the Irish and Royal Navy.

Owner of the Laurentic vessel and veteran diver Ray Cossum pictured with Mayor Hilary McClintock.

Owner of the Laurentic vessel and veteran diver Ray Cossum pictured with Mayor Hilary McClintock.

Speaking afterwards, Mayor McClintock said: “I was delighted to welcome relatives of those on board the vessel, and to have the opportunity to remember those who lost their lives in such tragic circumstances, and their place in our local history.

“The story is a significant moment in our rich maritime past.”

She added that a special service will be held in St Mura’s Church at Fahan on Saturday to celebrate those who died.

“I want to thank everyone who travelled here specially for the events, and I hope it offers them the chance to reconnect with lost loved ones and to honour their memory in a fitting way,” Mayor McClintock said.

The majestic Laurentic in operation during its heyday.

The majestic Laurentic in operation during its heyday.

Just an hour before the 565ft Laurentic hit two U-boat mines and sank, it had stopped off at the seaside town of Buncrana in Inishowen due to a number of cases of illness on board.

The Tower Museum in Londonderry this week launched a new free exhibition featuring a series of artefacts salvaged from the ship, which will be on display until June 25.

A number of talks will also take place over the coming months setting the context for the pieces on display. February 2 sees veteran diver Don McGlinchey give his account of the story of the Laurentic with a series of original images from the wreck. On March 2, diver Danny Keenan will offer an insight into the wrecks which scatter Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly. Finally on April 6, Ronan McConnell, will deliver a hands on session allowing the public to see original objects from the Laurentic up close.